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How to use watercolour pencils

How to use watercolour pencils

Watercolour pencils differ greatly from non-watercolour pencils. The difference is in the binder that holds the pigment. Whereas normal coloured pencils have a waxy or oil based binder, watercolour pencils have a water-soluble binder offering a wide variety of application from dry to wet. Once the colour has been laid down and water added, the vivid and vibrant hues are released, dissolving into beautiful washes or deep areas of colour.

Watercolour pencils are one of the most versatile mediums for illustrators, urban sketchers, designers, fashion designers and painters. They are also a perfect medium to use for mixed media studies. They are an excellent medium for beginners, amateurs and Professionals!

They enable draughtsmanship quality detail with the subtleties of watercolour when used in washes, or they can provide a kaleidoscope of vivid and bold colours dry or wet when layered. They can maintain the luminosity of watercolours whilst also providing an optional opaque quality.

They are portable, versatile and convenient, clean and easy to use indoors and outdoors. They are immediate with no prior preperation needed other than some watercolour paper (any paper above 90gsm in weight) a sharpener, a clean brush and a little water. They are easier to use, control and handle than just brushes and paint.

Artists and designers can use them wet and dry or combine them with other mediums such as; 

They can be used in conjunction with fineliners, permanent markers, watercolour pens or watercolour brush pens

    How to use watercolour pencils - do’s and dont's


    1. DO Use quality named brands, these will have a higher pigment content.
    2. DO Use watercolour paper for best results any paper weight over 90lbs, however the heavier the weight of paper the better the  results ie; 140lbs, 300lbs. Cold press, or Hot press. (Rough can be used with a light touch) Heavier paper can carry more water.
    3. DO use the pencils in layers, working with a soft to medium pressure to deepen an area of colour or widen an outline line of colour.
    4. DO work lightly over your paper in one direction applying light to medium pressure keeping the pencil lines close together to create large areas of colour. Then wet using clean water and soft brush.
    5. DO Keep your pencils sharpened for intricate details or for adding texture to your drawings.
    6. DO Use watercolour brushes - Round and Flat sizes 2, 6 & 8. You could use a larger soft Wash/Hake brush for larger areas.


    1. DON'T use unbranded pencils, they will have a lower pigment content, less vibrancy and dull colours when diluted.
    2. DON'T use copy paper or any paper that is too rough or too thin or too smooth (shiny)
    3. DON'T press too hard, this will crush the point of the pencil or leave impressions in the paper which cannot be removed. Or washed out.
    4. DON'T press too hard or create deep cross hatching marks if you need a large wash area of colour.
    5. DON'T press too hard as this will release too much pigment onto the paper which cannot be washed away easily.
    6. DON'T use hard bristle brushes that could scratch the paper.

    Watercolour pencil Techniques. What can you do with them?

    • Watercolour pencils can be used to draft out your composition lightly before committing to a concrete image.
    • Can provide both soft and hard edges within your image.
    • Can provide small details or create textures over watercolour washes.
    • Can provide a means to creating large or small watercolour washes semi transparent or more opaque depending how many layers of pigment you use.
    • Can be used with other watercolour mediums such as masking fluid.
    • Can be used over wet or dry inks, or used dry to create tonal gradients  over gouache,  acrylic. 
    • Can be blended together on the paper before wetting to create any colour palette suitable for your theme.
    • Can be used to work over wet or dry washes of colour. Used over a dry wash and your pencil line will stay sharp. Used over a wet wash the pencil line will be soft and diffused. 
    • The top of the range watercolour pencils are lightfast and permanent and sets can be bought with a multitude of vivid pigments. (Caran D’ache offer 120 different colours)
    • Most branded watercolour pencils have a strong lead core that doesn’t break easily.
    • Can be dipped into water before application onto paper for a very pigmented line.
    • Can be used dry on paper without wetting to create a dry drawing. 
    • Can be used on wet paper to create a very soft line.

    What are the best watercolour pencil brands?

    Caran d’Ache Supracolor watercolour pencils (Top of the range)

    Caran d'ache Supracolor Watercolour Pencils

    • Can buy individual pencils and make your own palette. 
    • Or you can buy sets of 12, 18, 30, 80.
    • Hard unbreakable lead
    • 3.8mm lead.
    • Fine and hard lead for clean accurate detailing.
    • Excellent light resistance.
    • Great for hatching, washdrawing, dry drawing.
    • Great for layering tones to create a variety of new hues.
    •  Name of barrel and light resistance grade.
    • FSC certified cedarwood barrell.
    • Easy grip and handle hexagon shape.
    • Intensely luminous colours and excellent covering power.

    Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle (top of the range professional quality)

    Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Watercolour Pencils

    • Comes in assorted sets of 12, 20, 40, 76
    • 3.8mm Lead.
    • High pigment density.
    • Wet and Dry mixed techniques.
    • Hexagon shape for easy grip and handling.
    • Unlimited colour mixing.
    • Cedarwood barrel for easy sharpening.
    • Colour fastness.
    • Optimal transparency.
    • Excellent solubility.
    • Nuanced shades.
    • Can be used in conjunction with other Caran d'Ache pencils.

    Caran d’Ache Prismalo Water soluble Pencils. (Children, beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Caran d'Ache Prismalo Watercolour Pencils

    • 3mm Lead.
    • Hard lead break resistant.
    • Extraordinary light fastness.
    • 80 colour palette
    • Cedarwood casing is easy to sharpen.
    • Hexagon shaped barrel for easy grip.
    • Excellent for detail work and wash techniques.

    Caran d’Ache Neocolour Water Soluble Wax Pastels. (children, beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Caran d'Ache Neocolour - Water Soluble Wax Pastels

    • Available in sets of 10, 30.
    • Suitable for extensive artistic techniques.
    • Used wet or dry.
    • Can be used for stencilling.
    • Can create beautiful Wash drawings.
    • Wax oil pastels have a soft, velvety texture.
    • Designed Not to crumble.
    • Easy to use.

    Derwent watercolour pencils. (children, beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Derwent Watercolour Pencils

    • 3.4mm lead.
    • Available individually or in sets 12, 24, 36, 48, 72.
    • Strong on soft and light colours
    • Mid range price
    • Great range of colours .
    • Hexagon shape for easy grip and handle.
    • Natural wood barrel.
    • Dries quickly.
    • Layers can be reworked.
    • Dissolves quickly.
    • Easy to sharpen.

    Derwent Inktense Permanent Watercolour pencils. (beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Derwent Inktense Watercolour Pencils

    • Available individually or in sets of 12, 24, 36, 48, 72.
    • 4mm Lead.
    • Intense colours.
    • ink like colours.
    • Intense,vivid colours.
    • Works well on fabric and paper.
    • Layers can not be reworked.
    • Drys waterproof.

    Derwent Inktense Blocks (beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Derwent Inktense Blocks

    • Available  individually or in sets of 12, 24.
    • Chunky water-soluble ink blocks.
    • Pure vibrant colours.
    • Once diluted delivers pure ink-like paint quality.
    • Can be used for a range of creative effects.
    • Can be used on fabrics such as silk and paper.
    • Can be used in conjunction with inktense pencils.
    • Use dry or wet.

    Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils set. (beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils Set

    • Set of 6.
    • 2 x HB, 2 x 4B and 2 x 8B
    • Six water-soluble sketching pencils.
    • Excellent for expressive tonal line drawing and line and wash sketches.
    • Can be used in conjunction with Derwent watercolour pencils.

    Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils (beginners, intermediate and professionals).

    FABER-CASTELL Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencil Sets

    • Available individually or in sets of 12, 24, 36, 60, 120.
    • 3.8mm lead. Providing excellent point retention.
    • Great versatility.
    • HIgh quality materials.
    • Unsurpassed watercolour effects and vibrancy.
    • Pigments dissolve completely when brushed with water.
    • High quality pigments of unsurpassed light-fastness and brilliance.
    • Smooth Colour stroke.
    • Break-resistant due to a special bonding process.

    Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils Magnus. (children, beginners, intermediate and professionals)

    FABER-CASTELL Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils

    • Larger, 5.3mm Lead.
    • Comes in sets of 30 with water brush and Roll.
    • Ideas for extensive drawing.
    • Larger size for comfort.
    • Very soft vibrant colour.
    • Covers large areas quickly.
    • Easy to handle.
    • Larger size for comfort.

    Stabilo Woody 3 in 1 Pencil Crayons. (children, beginners)

    Stabilo Woody 3 in 1 Pencil Crayons

    • Available in a set of 18.
    • 3 in 1 pencil crayon.
    • Colouring pencil, watercolour and wax crayon in one.
    • Soft and  rich colour application.
    • Exceptionally high brilliance and covering capacity.
    • Great on white and dark surfaces.
    • Can be used on many surfaces including glass.

    Staedtler Watercolour Pencils. (children, beginners, intermediate)

    Staedtler Watercolour Pencils

    • Available in sets of 24.
    • Great introduction to watercolor pencils.
    • High quality watercolour pencils.
    • Hexagonal shape for easy grip.
    • Soft lead for a wide range of wet and dry techniques.
    • Highly pigmented colours that are easy to blend.

    GIOTTO Stilnovo Acquarell 24 watercolour pencils. (children, beginners)

    • 24 Bright Colours

    • Watercolour Leads

    • Quality Lead 3.3mm

    • Water based varnish

    • Easy to sharpen
Hexagon shape for easy grip.

    Additional resources you may want to use with watercolour pencils;

    Ellie Jakeman
    Ellie Jakeman

    I have had a strong interest in the visual and creative arts since a very early age. After completing an Art and Design Degree and Post graduate studies I have taught Art and Design, Fashion and Textiles, Textile design , Fine Art print and Illustration for over 20 years. Before teaching I was a freelance artist and illustrator and decided 4 years ago I would return to freelance and commissioned work. I have created many domestic and commercial murals for hospitals and hospices. I work part time for ARTdiscount as a content creator and product tester.

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